Any meaningful attempt at self analysis must include (amongst a myriad other things) the discovery and acknowledgment of one’s triggers, weaknesses, and perhaps most importantly…one’s Achilles Heel. Until you know these things, you will forever be vulnerable to the sucker punches of life, and less likely to survive torture by foreign operatives for the national secrets you might be concealing. As you read this, you know exactly what “it” is or “they” are, and if you don’t, it won’t be hard to figure out. My guess is that most of us, with tenuous bravery fueled by bravado, think we can vanquish these evils with the steely, ice-blue eyed, slightly unhinged, laughing resolve of Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale (you know the scene of which I speak.) The truth, if you are willing to face it, is that we would more likely to quiveringly cave, than to laughingly beg for more blows from a sap.
For me, that trigger, that weakness, that Achilles Heel, that moment of weakness in a dark, damp interrogation chamber is flan patissier. When faced with sharp objects, spiders, beatings, water boarding, or any other manner of torture, I guess it would be easy enough to just give up and die. In my twisted foodie mind, I believe the cruelest and most persuasive misery would be to use something seductively delicious. To this day, you could wave chocolate, prime rib, the perfect Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, lobster, caviar, or even butter in my face and as tempted as I may be, no government secrets would pass my lips. Flan patissier is a different story. A slice would have me singing songs of treason like a canary!
I never really had a chance against it. My Mom tells fantastic tales of having wild cravings for custard during her pregnancy, she religiously fed me Gerber’s Vanilla Custard Pudding from infancy, and it is now undoubtedly mutated into my genetic make up. I was custard primed for what was to come. From my earliest trips to Paris, when my eyes first made contact with it I was hooked. When I first tasted it, I was toast. I make it my personal mission while there to consume as much as possible, within reason of course. Like any discerning Parisienne, I will ruthlessly sacrifice quantity for quality every time. I am flan patiessier mad.
What is it you ask? Quite simply, it is thick custardy luciousness baked into a butter crust shell. The custard is so thick, that a slice can be held up and eaten without the officious interference of utensils. (Much like a cool slice of Zachary’s Chicago style pizza.)
The challenge whenever I get home is how to hold myself over till my next trip to Paris. I have searched high and low in every city I have been to near home, that claims to have a French Patisserie. Rien! Nothing even comes close. All were French flan flops. Never one to accept “no,” or “can’t” for an answer, I set out to make my own.
After years of sifting though recipes in both French and English, I stumbled upon one that worked from none other than the slightly satanic, jailed, but unrelenting domestic goddess Martha Stewart. Her version is one based on a recipe developed by chef Sebastien Rouxel of Bouchon Bakery. My version is further modified from that recipe and I omit the prunes. The result is the best thing I have found this side of the Atlantic. Am I saying I am an ace baker? Absolutely not, rather I am a lawyer who can read and follow directions. I am certain that the unrefined edges of my crusts would make any real pastry chef cringe and avert their eyes, but I swear, you won’t regret looking past the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of pate brisee crusts. Cradled inside is a custard lover’s delight. I made this for the first time ever this year, after I moved to The Ranch. In this way, I have been able to use my kitchen to make the dirt roads around here seem a little more like the Boulevard Saint Germain. Quick tip: I don’t have a baking ring, so using Ranch Ingenuity, minus the blood loss and brushes with heavy machinery, I jerry-rigged one using the outer ring of my spring form pan!
As I wrote, the lines above, my flan patissier baked away in the warm cocoon of my Jenn-Air double oven. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding:
Perhaps you will share in my dream and go just a little flan mad. Bisous!
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